Drama at the Royal High in the 1960s

Performing Arts

The Royal High School of today places much emphasis on Performing Arts, in many forms including Dance, Stage shows, Choirs, Orchestras and cultural exchanges. Stage is also well represented by Dance shows and Fringe performances in the recent past, but the School’s relationship with Music and Drama was not always so intertwined.

The School curriculum consisted entirely of Latin until the mid-19th century, and Music as a subject was not introduced until 1856, and then as an after-School activity at an additional cost.

There was a Second World War post-war flurry of stage performances, mainly due to outstanding pupil producers and English teachers. 1949 School Dux Karl Miller and Head of English Hector MacIver (Principal English Master 1947-1966) were leaders in this respect. Signed programs, photos and reviews from the 1950 production of “Just The Job” can be viewed on Drama at the Royal High 1948 to 1950 .

The overseas exchange trips, initiated in 1980, and the KT Singers in 1978 launched many pupils on their lifetime musical experience. Amnesty International became an annual event, followed by three major musicals 2007 – 2010 which were once again the product of a small team of dedicated teachers, this time led principally by Tom Bacciarelli and Gary Snedden.

Becket and Othello

Mouse click or tap the images below to see them fullsize.

Former President of the RHS Dramatic Society, Chris Halliburton, has sent these images showing the activities of the Dramatic Society around 1964-67. RHS Club in London Members will recognise many of the names. Former treasurer Simon Card was president of the London Club for several years. David Robb, John Melville and John MacNicol continued their careers in acting and the arts, While Neil Ziegar and Brian Dunnigan have distinguished careers in TV and Film. The late Ian Charleson (National Theatre and in Oscar winning films Ghandi and Chariots of Fire) is listed in the Stage Crew for Becket.

Crawfurd Adamson went on to become a noted figurative artist with paintings exhibited at MOMA in New York and the Fleming Collection in London.

The underlined names are of the prefects who appear in the Where Are They Now page on the !966-1967 Prefects .

If you have memories of the Dramatic Society, please leave a comment below, or you can use our contact form if you wish to contribute an article or photographs.

On a topical note, the British Museum will have an exhibition on Thomas Becket from 20th May to 22nd August 2021

The Othello production in 1964, was on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare birth.

The Dumb Waiter and The Fire Raisers

According to the January 1964 edition of Schola Regia – The Christmas plays were “The Fire raisers” by Max Fisch, produced by Robin Cook, and “The Dumb Waiter” by Harold Pinter, produced by Stewart McDougall. Chris Halliburton, David Robb and John Melville were in the cast of the “Dumb Waiter”.

Robin Cook served as Foreign Secretary from 1997 until 2001.

If you were involved with any of these plays or have any memorabilia from these plays or any others please get in touch with us.

Feedback received from Stuart Card who “well remembers painting the flats for The Dumb Waiter in a basement in Regent terrace… whilst having ‘a sly fag’.”

Johnny Melville comments in full below and has kindly supplied some programs. He was also in a production of Zoo Story and directed the late Ian Charleson in “What The Butler Saw” which was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival.

Just the Job and Authors of Mischief

More programs and photos from previous years are in the Drama at the Royal High 1948 to 1950 page

Productions in 1967 and 1968

In 1967 and 1968 there were productions of Hamlet, Waiting for Godot, the Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service and The Physicists. Photos from these productions donated by George Lunn can be see on Drama at the Royal High 1967 to 1968 page.

Simon Card comments

I remember those events almost as if they were yesterday ! As assistant stage manager (assisting Mr Malkin !)… ah the smell of the greasepaint and the roar (?) of the crowd!

Thank you and Chris for sharing these memories…

Brean Hammond comments

I wanted to add a few reminiscences to the recent posting by Chris Halliburton. I don’t know if he remembers me, but I certainly remember him. The opening of that 1964 production of Othello is etched on my memory. I recall Chris and John Whitworth striding onto the stage, Chris’s perfectly-constructed oafish and vacuous walk and expression as he said ‘Tush, never tell me, I take it much unkindly, / That thou, who hast had my purse / As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this’. Hector MacIver chose me as producer’s assistant for that production and it was what began for me a lifelong interest in drama and theatre. During the riot scene, when Cassio is drawn into the brawl by Iago, the stage direction calls for a bell to be sounded. It was my job to sound that bell. Every night, however, the noise was so loud that I missed my cue and had to be set upon by irate stage hands and violently suppressed. 
I had a minor role in Anouilh’s Beckett and what I recall most vividly from backstage in that production was the poker game. Niall Longmuir, I recall, had to knock the door and enter at one point. But he was engrossed in the poker game and I heard him say ‘Oh, I am so lucky today’. ‘Not so lucky, Niall’, I said suavely. ‘Why?’ ‘Because you’re supposed to be onstage’. Cards everywhere. Confusion. 

The first significant role I can recall getting was in a short play called The Bespoke Overcoat, by Wolf Mankowitz. I was in a Pinter play – I think A Slight Ache, not Dumb Waiter – and in the fullness of time became President of the Dramatic Society. Our play in my final year was called One More River by Beverly Cross – a David Campbell production and considerably racy. David had initiated contact with James Gillespie’s girls school and with them we did The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt. Again, this was a courageous choice of an avant-garde play that didn’t, shall we say, wear its meaning on its face. I played Einstein. The RHS Dramatic Society had no difficulty in attracting speakers: those I recall were Ronnie Corbett and Richard Eyre. 
For me, the Dramatic Society  was the platform to an academic career in which theatre and drama have always been a prominent part. I directed the staff and undergraduate productions at the University of Liverpool. And as a scholar, perhaps my most significant achievement is the bringing to notice and editing for the Arden Shakespeare series a ‘lost’ Shakespeare play called Double Falsehood (based on a story in Don Quixote). Al Senter asked me to talk about that one year at the RHS FP dinner but the arrangements didn’t fall into place. Perhaps another time. 
I hope this is a useful supplement to what is already on the site. 
With best wishes. 
Brean Hammond


  1. Thank you Chris for leaving these lovely memories. Wasn’t it a remarkable school & such a tribute to the staff and the collective ethos that boys were encouraged to perform on the stage, in music, debates and on the playing fields of Jock’s Lodge? My minor role in Othello left me in awe of those who went on to star in stage & screen but more broadly, didn’t engagement in all these extra-curricular activities instil a confidence in so many of us as we went up to University & beyond? Fascinating to see how many of these actors flourished in later life – a real testimony to the school and to the London Club for bringing these memories together.

  2. Hi
    this is my first visit to this site since I left school as captain of vice in the last step to the future door in Regents Road. I was second last to go through, Captain Billy Seath followed me.

    Just noticed Chris Haliburton’s notes – My appearance in Othello was fleeting at best, doing a scene with class mate Tom McGowan whose Scottish accent brought a new light to Shakespeare!!! The Dumb Waiter was actually with David Robb and myself and I think directed by John Macnicol. I was also Ismene in Robin Cook’s production of Antigone and was Herr Biederman in the Fire Raisers. I remember some real technical mixups during the first night of Raisers which looking back only helped me to be sharp at improve through my career. After that I played jerry in Zoo Story with Tom Dawson, directed by John Macnicol. Then was Beckett to David Robb’s King Henry directed by David Campbell- Beckett was hard for me to play I have to say- the character so deep and subtle and beyond my experience at the time. My rogue and libertine days were experienced after RHS not during….!

    I worked with Ian Charleson twice at Edinburgh University together performing in the Marat-Sade, and then directing him as the panicky Doctor Prentice in What the Butler saw with a girlfriend of the time, Bernice Stegers playing his wife. That was a festival hit in that year. Was great to work with him and of course is sorely missed even now. Bernice was in 4 weddings and a funeral and married director Mike Newell.

    I am sending some pics and programs from the time to Will – so hopefully it will be a pleasant update for all to see. I have been based in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Barcelona so been working worldwide and not much in the UK since I left London in 1979. Who knows…? maybe I can still arrive at a London meeting one day – but only without a mask !

    Light, love and laughter from me in Barcelona.

  3. My my, how can “Becket” be fifty five years ago?! It was the last contribution I made to The Dramatic Society before swanning through the Memorial door a couple of weeks after.
    I remember Chris Halliburton well; his brother Ian coached me when I was preparing to audition for drama college in London.
    Happy days when it was all before us – – –

    1. Gosh David, I didn’t know my brother Ian had done that – he was 6 years older so had done the whole Prefect & drama thing at RHS ( like my father & uncle in pre WW2 days) & then RSAMDA in Glasgow, ahead of Bill Paterson , & then Glasgow Citizens Theatre & quite a bit of TV before selling his soul to go into banking

      Hope you’re well – maybe meet up? ( RAC , or Garrick for you thespians !)

      chris h

    2. Gosh David, I didn’t know my brother Ian had done that – he was 6 years older so had done the whole Prefect & drama thing at RHS ( like my father & uncle in pre WW2 days- to make us feel really old F…S) & then RSAMDA in Glasgow, ahead of Bill Paterson , & then Glasgow Citizens Theatre & quite a bit of TV , before selling his soul to go into banking

      Hope you’re well – maybe meet up? ( at the RAC , or Garrick, for you thespians !)

      chris h

  4. John Young and John Murray produced the very successful school version of “Oliver” in 1970. (Dave Campbell was involved in early stages before he left) Myself and Gordon Hunter shared the title role, Al Senter was a memorable Bill Sykes, John Wood as Artful Dodger, Alan Bisset as Fagin.

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